Hand in Hand, Asia

On the 30th of October 2015, some of the Pink Singers travelled to Taipei, Taiwan, for Asia’s first ever LGBT choral festival. Here, our chair Simon explains more. 

32 years ago when The Pink Singers was started, I wonder if our founders Mark Bunyan and Brian Kennedy would have dared to imagine that in three decades’ time, we’d be singing on stage with a host of new and established Asian LGBT choirs, 6,000 miles away in Taipei?

The Pink Singers go East

Four weeks ago, ten intrepid pinkies crossed the globe to beautiful Taiwan, having been invited by the wonderful G-Major chorus to the inaugural LGBT choir festival in Asia, Hand in Hand. But how did this come about?

Proud Voices choir at Various Voices 2014, Dublin
 Proud Voices choir at Various Voices 2014, Dublin

Well, last year the Pink Singers attended Various Voices 2014 – Europe’s LGBT choral festival, then in its 13th iteration. We wrote about that trip really rather a lot. Present that year at the festival were delegates from two asian choirs – the Beijing Queer Chorus and G-Major, Taipei – who joined forces into a scratch choir organised by Proud Voices.

So inspired were our Asian visitors by their experience of Various Voices in Ireland (and with a little nudging from our very own Hsien Chew…), they decided to start a festival of their own, and Hand in Hand Asia was born.

Getting the party started with the British Council

Pink Singers and G-Major chorus at the British Council in Taipei
 Pink Singers and G-Major chorus at the British Council in Taipei

Fast forward 15 months, and a gaggle of jet-lagged, starry-eyed pinkies were 26 floors up, singing some songs ourselves and alongside the G-Major chorus, in the British Council’s offices in downtown Taipei, kicking off the pride festivities.

A very warm welcome

Dancing at the welcome party (Photo: Hsien Chew)
 Dancing at the welcome party (Photo: Hsien Chew)

A few hours later, we arrived at the Hand in Hand welcome party in a restaurant downtown. On arrival we are greeted by beaming faces of the G-Major, the hosts, as well as G-Voice & Unnie from Korea, Singapore Men’s Chorus, GAPA from California, choirs from Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai. 

We were all treated to plate after plate of delicious Taiwanese food and tasty local beer. And of course there was lots of getting to know each other. And some rather energetic dancing. Later, we crossed town to a club where we danced the night away – with each choir spontaneously in succession teaching others their dance moves…

Sharing the moves at Funky nightclub
 Sharing the moves at Funky nightclub (Photo: Hsien Chew)

Music and dance – an international language, indeed.

Standing together with pride

Pink Singers in central Taipei on the march
 Pink Singers and friends in central Taipei on the march

The following day, through some canny scheduling, all the choirs were able to march in Taipei pride together – which was a real treat.

The rain held off and a humid, electric atmosphere ensued, with tens of thousands marching and more looking on. I think us Pinkies were taken back by the scale of the march, Asia’s largest, and how welcome we were made to feel as some of the only westerners around. After posing for lots of silly photos we were treated to yet more delicious food.

Jerome shows off his heels with the fabulous Unnie choir from Korea
 Jerome shows off his heels with the fabulous Unnie choir from Korea

Hand in Hand – the festival

 G-Voice from Seoul

And then to the main event itself – Hand in Hand. Held at the beautiful concert hall in Taipei University of the Arts, it was very humbling to have the chance to see so many varied and talented choirs perform. First up was Men’s Voice Kansai from Japan, whose outfits revealed more than a little leg, who opened the afternoon concert with a wonderfully rich-sounding set of Japanese folk songs. 

In quick succession this was followed by three more choirs from China, performing separately and combined, whose delicate sounds lifted the whole audience. I particularly enjoyed the soloist’s performance of ‘Can you feel the love tonight’.

Other stand-out performances came from Korean choir G-Voice – whose hip gyrations made most of the audience more than a little hot under the collar. Their set featured a lot of hilarious wordplay including ‘Gays are a girl’s best friend”.

Unnie choir
 Unnie choir

And I can’t forget the sultry Unnie who made us all want their ‘Rainbow Feminist’ t-shirts by the time they finished their set which featured on-stage kissing and a wonderful arrangement of ‘Royals’ by Lorde.

We Pinkies took to the stage to perform a couple of our favourite songs, as did one of our subgroups the Barberfellas, before being joined by a few friends from Seattle, Paris, Vancouver and Dublin to form the Proud Voices scratch choir.

Together we sang a variety of songs including a local song, ‘Yi ren yi ban’, in Taiwanese dialect, hokkien. We did all this under the careful eye of our conductor, Frances Bowen, who did a marvellous job of getting us performance-ready in about three short rehearsals – one of which featured a pint-size keyboard for accompaniment!

Proud Voices choir (Photo by 터울)
 Proud Voices choir (Photo by 터울)

And then to the main performance – G-Major chorus’ annual concert, and what a treat it was. The choir performed flawlessly and seamlessly switched genres effortlessly – led by the skilled Weylin Gabriel.

Their performance of ‘L’amour est un oiseau rebelle’ from Bizet’s Carmen was a real stand-out – with everyone on stage engaged to the full. But the performance of Labi Sire’s ‘Something inside so strong’ was the number that actually brought me to tears – such a solid sound, such passion and belief in the lyrics briefly overwhelmed me. It was stunning.

G-Major chorus dancing in rehearsal
 G-Major chorus dancing in rehearsal

G-Major: if I could come to every concert of yours, I absolutely would.

And suddenly – it was all over! So many new friends, so many goodbyes. But pinkies being pinkies, we needed a nightcap, so we decamped to the trusty Goldfish bar in Zhongzheng – where we did a quick Skype call to our pinkie friends rehearsing back in London. Many other choir members joined us and celebrated into the small hours.

And what a way to visit Taiwan for the first time. Such a beautiful country with rich history and culture – with such brilliant local hosts we had the best time hiking, eating, adventuring across the country. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

 Wen Wu temple at Sun Moon Lake

Watch the video

You can see Hsien’s video montage of the festival for Proud Voices below.

And what a way to round off a fabulous 2015 for the Pink Singers – having attended not one, but two brand new LGBT choral festivals in Spain and Taiwan. I look forward to more!

Timeline datestamp: 30 October 2015

Pink rockabilly at Pride

Pride 2015Newbie alto and already-our-new-section-leader (yay!) Jeremy tells us about his first Pride experience as a Pinkie…
It was 1972, the 1st of July, when the first official UK Gay Pride was held in London.  Marches had taken place from 1970, traversing parts of North London, but it was on this day, chosen as the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, that around 2,000 people converged on London. They came to march, protest and fight for the rights which are fast becoming our 21st century reality.
Some of my fellow Pinkies were there, and I bet they could hardly have imagined what Pride would be like a little over 40 years later.  We were certainly extremely happy and indeed proud that they were still there, and with us! Marching side-by-side with the giants whose shoulders we stand upon, was a special experience that I’m sure we’ll keep forever. The theme for Pride this year was ‘Pride Heroes’, with various ‘everyday people’ being rightly lauded for their work, visibility and stoicism in the moves toward equality.
Pride 2015I realise not everyone likes the way Pride goes now, but I guess it was ever thus, the day I see an entire community agreeing on one thing is a day I shan’t hold my breath for! For what it’s worth, it seems to me that a day where people seem to be smiling a lot more, where there is a greater diversity of gender expression and identity, and where couples of all sexualities feel able to do something as simple as holding hands without fear of violence , still has a huge amount of positive worth in it.
The day dawned bright and warm, and most importantly dry. Many of us had been caught in the downpour of Pride 2014, memories of soggy socks and drooping fairy wings had made us extra-happy to see the sun put in a strong appearance from start to finish. We marched together in the parade, banner billowing in the breeze and helium balloons with minds of their own causing scenes of general hilarity. We sang songs from seasons past and present, and the crowds obliged us beautifully by joining in. A notable favourite was the timeless classic ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which has been quite brilliantly rearranged by our very own Chris Chambers, for our Summer concert on the 11th July.
Pride 2015I had chosen the day to try out my new 1950s-style pink rockabilly skirt, and could be seen twirling and dancing a little ahead of the main body of Pinkies with a few others, handing out flyers and stickers to the friendly (and at times vaguely bemused) crowds. The optimism of the crowd was tangible. Only a day after the US Supreme Courts ruling on same-sex marriage, with Ireland’s joyful referendum outcome still ringing in our ears, it seems we are in a great position to be actually  brimming with pride, whilst also mindful that we can’t hang up our marching boots just yet…
Pride 2015So, we danced, we sang, we acquired a parade gatecrasher with a lovely alto range, in short, it was a blast. At the march’s end, we received goodie bags containing gratuitous amounts of officially named (by our very own Kate Nichols and Chris Viveash) ‘Fancy Gay Coffee’, we headed straight to the crypt of St. Martins in the Fields to rehearse for our big moment. We appeared on the main stage in Trafalgar Square in the early evening. At 6.40pm, we were waiting backstage as I was changing into my red stilettos, as you do. I am now known as ‘Dorothy’ to many choir members…  Anyway, there I was, with the shock of having just spent a penny in a portaloo still leaving my system, when the glorious Sandi Toksvig started practising her speech not three feet away from me. I had met her once before, when I was wearing pink glitter dress shoes, which Ms. Toksvig and I named my ‘Vagina Shoes’…but that’s another story.
Pride 2015Sandi was on just before us, giving the most rousing and heart warming speech I’ve heard in a long time, naming everyone there as her ‘Pride Heroes’. We completely agreed, they were the most exuberant and welcoming crowd we could have hoped for. The performance was over in a flash, good things always are, but we sang our hearts out and they seemed to enjoy it. Our classic rendition of ‘Vogue’ went down a storm (i’ve a sneaking suspicion there might have a been a few Madonna fans in the audience, but I may be wrong), and we rounded it off with a song thats coming up in our Summer Concert ‘Key Changes:  Songs that Shaped the World’ at St. John’s Smith Square in London on Saturday the 11th July.  If you want to know what song, you’ll have to come to the concert…
This is my first season as a ‘Pinkie’, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.  When I first marched at Pride a few years a go with another (brilliant) organisation, all I could think about were the many people I had met in my life who had done everything they could to stop me from being there at all. In 2015, all I could think of, and all I could see, were thousands of people who were happy to see us.  Thank You Pinkies…I cannot wait until next time!
See more of our photos from the day here!

Pride Run 2012

When I grow up, I want to be fit and healthy and be able to run for miles and miles…

Well, at the start of 2012 I realised that it probably wasn’t going to happen automatically, so I took up running. Only short distances at first, and slowly, but gradually improving, so by April I was running about 5km a couple of times a week.

Then one of the Pink Singers, who’s also a member of London Frontrunners, publicised the Pride Run – a 10km run in Victoria Park in September, in aid of the Albert Kennedy Trust. September seemed a long enough time away to make 10km feasible, so I signed up as part of the 20-strong Team Pink Singers.

Fast forward to the morning of September 15th, and I arrived in Victoria Park with running kit, my race number (721!) and a whole heap of trepidation – how could this have been a good idea?! But the other Pinkies started arriving, and we donned our specially-made bright pink shirts, pinned on our numbers and warmed up, and my nerves settled down and excitement took over. We were a team – strength in numbers!

We made our way down to the start line, which was marked out with sections relating to expected finishing time – the lean and fit club runners jostled for position around the 40 minute mark; my fellow novices and I went back to behind the 1 hour line. Then after a short pause the sound of a starting pistol had everyone surging forward. It took a minute or so for us to cross the start line, where we were waved on by Sir Ian McKellen – LGBT royalty!

Then we were off – I’d been warned about setting off too quickly in all the excitement, so I established a steady (ok, slow) pace. Several non-running Pinkies had come to cheer us on, and their encouragement was brilliant motivation as we jogged round the 3 lap course. Even the other supporters and enthusiastic volunteer marshals were vocally supportive, shouting “come on Pink Singers!” – proving that our distinctive shirts were a worthwhile investment!

The first two laps passed steadily; we enjoyed the percussion band positioned at the bottom of the loop, and the water station near the top (it turns out that drinking from a cup while running is a skill I need to work on), and we started to overtake a few people, whilst being lapped by the super-speedy leaders. By the time we started the final lap, I was feeling good – 7km down and nearly there! My enthusiasm for reaching the finish unintentionally manifested itself into me speeding up, which my running buddy Frances pointed out meant that she ran out of breath for chatting!

We counted down the kilometres, until the finish line was in sight. With the Pinkies who’d already finished cheering me home, I even managed a sprint finish to celebrate my first 10km achievement in 1 hour and 5 minutes!
After cheering on the remaining members of the team and collecting our well-earned post-run snacks, we all made our way (slowly) to a nearby pub for lunch, feeling tired, but happy, and immensely proud of Team Pink Singers.

Now….how long is it ok for me to keep wearing my medal…?


Timeline datestamp: 15 September 2012

World Pride London 2012 – You’re a firework!

There were many rumours swirling in the lead up to the 2012 Pride London march. The pressure was on because it was also World Pride in London and we had guests from all across the globe. We heard that the march was to be scaled back, and that there were to be no floats; could Pride survive? Continue reading “World Pride London 2012 – You’re a firework!”

Love does not discriminate

The Pink Singers support equal marriage and believe that equality before the law is a basic principle in any democratic society. Loving and committed relationships between two people should be recognised in the same way by the state regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of those involved. There is no justification for treating equal members of society differently. As a choir we celebrate the love between our members and their families and in this video we have spoken to three couples about their relationships. Love does not discriminate and nor should the state!
For more information on equality in civil marriage, please visit the Coalition For Equal Marriage. Continue reading “Love does not discriminate”